University of Maryland on Free Speech: Porn In, Prayer Out

<p><img src="http://media.eyeblast.org/newsbusters/static/2009/04/maryland.jpg" alt="maryland" width="240" align="right" height="180" />The University of Maryland recently decided that prayer is not allowed during commencement addresses, but pornographic films are allowed on campus. University officials cited “academic free speech” as the reason to allow the film. Occurring nearly simultaneously, both incidents have garnered extensive media coverage. The question is, will the media question the University’s inconsistency in applying First Amendment principles?<br /><br />In an arbitrary sweep of political power, the University of Maryland Senate voted to eradicate the practice of prayer at graduation ceremonies. According to the <a href="http://media.www.diamondbackonline.com/media/storage/paper873/news/2009/... paper</a> The Diamondback, “The senate approved a proposal that eliminates a prayer invocation at the university's annual commencement ceremony in a 32-14 vote after a lengthy debate that touched on the controversial issue of the separation of church and state.”<br /><br />The university has a <a href="http://media.www.diamondbackonline.com/media/storage/paper873/news/2009/... of allowing an “all-inclusive” invocation to be given at the beginning of each commencement address by any one of the fourteen university chaplains. <!--break--> <br /><br />This decision came just days after another controversy erupted on campus involving a hardcore pornographic film. After learning of the decision to allow students to show sexually explicit excerpts of the film on campus, Maryland state legislators threatened to withdraw funding from the university unless the decision was reversed. The University did ban the screening but did not interfere with the students’ “academic freedom” when an independent student group took matters into its own hands by securing a lecture hall to show the triple-X film. <br /><br />One half hour of the film, “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge” was screened on campus on April 6 along with a panel discussion about safe sex, featuring a representative from Planned Parenthood. (On a side note, as reported by <a href="/blogs/ken-shepherd/2009/04/07/future-journalism-umd-paper-provides-link-video-porn-screening-event">MRC’s Ken Shepherd</a>, The Diamondback had no qualms linking to video of the screening, but it was more circumspect about showing political signs recently.)<br /><br />The Washington Post <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/06/AR200904... a statement </a>from State Senator Andrew P. Harris, one of the more vocal opponents of the film and one who threatened to block funding. “I know some students would like to portray this as a free speech issue,” Harris said. “It is not. This is about the use of taxpayer dollars, and the Maryland General Assembly acts every day on issues concerning the use of taxpayer dollars.”<br /><br />Taxpayer dollars or “academic” free speech … it doesn’t really matter. In College Park, porn is protected speech. Prayer is not.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><i>Photo via www.acc-tv.com </i></p>